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Homeschool planning and scheduling with Ambleside Online

I've been up to my eyeballs in prep for the 2021-2022 school year for weeks now. How we organize our homeschool is a frequent topic of conversation in person and online, so I thought I would write out some nitty gritties for those who might find this helpful. {We school with a Charlotte Mason educational philosophy using the curriculum of Ambleside Online. You can read more about why I love AO here, and a little bit about what our daily life looks like here.} This will be our twelfth year of homeschooling. With four kids spread through high school (including AG's first dual-enrollment... so also college!), middle school. elementary, and preschool this year, organization feels both daunting and freeing. My goal is always that we enter our first week of school with all 36 weeks planned out so we basically hit the ground running and just keep doing the next thing for the rest of the year. This time investment during summer allows me to not only survive, but also enjoy our school year. I've also learned the hard way that good intentions will not carry me through the school year. If I don't plan it, it won't happen, at least not more than a few times. Period. I also need a flexible enough rhythm and structure to our days that our week doesn't implode when we have multiple doctor appointments or therapies or if I'm particularly slammed with work. So, here's how we do it.


Truth be told, many of us using AO are drawn to it because of the amazing books that our kids (and their moms!) get to read. So, step one is always looking at our AO booklists for the upcoming year, inventorying what we have and what we need, and doing lots of online shopping for used books, price comparing from multiple sites for used books. Personally I use AbeBooks a lot, and prefer to order from Living Book Press or Rainbow Resource when I can't find a good used option.

{This is a great tutorial from Brandy Vencel about how to navigate the AO site to find what books you need, although AO has recently updated their website and I find it much easier and more intuitive to navigate!}

Organizing all those BOOKS!

Once our mailman has started to wonder if we are opening up our own bookstore, and piles of books are threatening to crash on anyone passing by our school table, it's time to put them somewhere. Our house was already set with a small library room with shelving when we moved here, which was a major selling point for me. But even with space, organizing it can be a bit tricky. This is what works for us.

One whole portion of the room is all literature and general fiction. I organize these books alphabetically by author's last name. These shelves include all AO free reads, literature selections, extra "fun books," and also literature that I just collect and read myself. I do not separate out the AO years, but I do mark the spines with washi tape so the kids can find their books more easily.

This washi tape system has also allowed them to browse the shelves and find things to read freely without oversight. If it's a free read marked for their current year, or any previous year, it's fair game. If it's marked for a later year, they know they need to wait. If it's unmarked, they can ask me - mostly because I don't want them dipping their toes into something they just aren't emotionally equipped for yet. {This is also how I space out the Harry Potter series. I like them to "grow up" with Harry, as the first generation readers of HP did as they were released one year at a time - this both makes me less concerned about the darker elements in the later books and also keeps them from being so consumed with the series that they neglect all the other excellent books available to them. Not that anyone would do that, right??}

In other areas of the room, I group non-fiction by subject and generally by year, again with the same washi tape system. I do sections of:

  • Science and nature study

  • Math

  • Poetry, language arts, Shakespeare

  • Art

  • History, geography, government

  • Biographies

  • Homeschool reference and "mom's education stuff"

  • Bible study and commentaries

  • Theology and Christian living

  • Worldview and philosophy

Morning and Afternoon Times

Books are in, organized, and looking lovely! Next up: Organizing our days.

One of our favorite homeschool routines is morning time (a practice that I learned from Cindy Rollins - and she has a lovely new book that is so inspiring and helpful!), where we join together for portions of our study that we do together. At this season of life, I find it most helpful to divide this "together time" into morning time and afternoon time. We use the morning for Bible reading, "the riches" from the AO rotations (poetry, hymn study, composer study, nature study, artist/picture study), and some fun extras I throw in there like Ohio history videos, ASL lessons, games and brain teasers, and a lighter read-aloud book selection. I make myself a block schedule (left, on the photo below) for what we will *try* to do on different days of the week. If we don't get to everything everyday, I don't stress about it. We just keep doing the next thing. I do make myself a 36 week overview schedule (right, on the photo below) that I aim to get done. I don't stress about this, it's just something to shoot for. But having this schedule enables us to sit down at the table, pull out the morning time folder, and just do the next thing with almost no prep.

We have a very similar routine for "afternoon time," which is just a more academic version of this that is easier for us to do while four year old TE is having her afternoon rest (she's in and out during morning time). Afternoon time includes a chapter or selection of a chapter of Proverbs (basically I read until one really strikes me and we pause there and might talk about it a bit), grammar and studied dictation, Latin, Plutarch, Shakespeare (both from the AO rotations), copywork, and recitation. This year I also scheduled in weekly one-on-one "progress reviews" with each student, to have time to look over all of their work for the past week, check in on anything they are struggling with or forgetting, etc.

Individual Schedules

Once morning time and afternoon time schedules are done, I work on individual schedules for each student. To make these, I pretty much take the AO grid schedules, download in .DOC format, and edit in google docs. I color-code each book so they know if it will be on their kindles, on our school shelves, from our local library, or an online resource they will access through an AO website link. They will open this schedule and look down the column for the week. They've learned to total up the number of readings they have and divide by 4 (they like to mostly be off on Fridays!), and then do that many readings per day. I have them put a line through the box when they've read it, and then mark it out more completely once they have narrated to me (either written, to me directly, or via voice memo and texted.)

After the books are color coded, I change the format of the bottom-half of the schedules with check-boxes for work they need to do each week. So for week one, AG needs to do 4 lessons of math, 3 lessons of Spanish, etc. I give them as much freedom in how they structure their days as I can. Other than our set times together in morning time or afternoon time, they can do what they want when they want to... as long as everything is complete by Friday afternoon. All three of the bigs have had "weekend work" when they haven't gotten their schoolwork done, or lost privileges until they completed things they had slacked off on. They were painful but also important life lessons!

All of these folders end up in a folder organizer on the wall next to my chair at our school table.

Also on my end of the table, I keep a basket with many of the books we will frequently need during our together times at the table, just to make things flow more smoothly from one thing to the next rather than hunting down books each time.

Everyone you talk to will organize their school and their days differently. Isn't that part of the beauty of homeschooling? And as Charlotte Mason reminds us, children are born persons - and their moms are born persons. Different things will work differently for each individual and family. But that being said, I hope this has been helpful to some. For TE this year, I am incorporating A Year of Playing Skillfully for some intentional preschool-enrichment and therapy-extension. I'm planning to share a bit tomorrow about why I was drawn to AYOPS for her and how I'm organizing and using this curriculum in a way that has proven workable for us. Have a wonderful school year, friends!


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